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Baylor Alumni

Freedom of Conscience

Why Baylor has succeeded in its historic mission
By Jeff Kilgore, BAA executive vice president and CEO

In May 1920, Baylor alumnus and legendary Texas pastor George W. Truett delivered a sermon to a crowd of fifteen thousand on the east steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. “It is the consistent and insistent contention of our Baptist people, always and everywhere, that religion must be forever voluntary and uncoerced, and that it is not the prerogative of any power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, to compel men to conform to any religious creed or form of worship. God wants free worshippers and no other kind,” he proclaimed.

The freedom of conscience Truett eloquently described is a value the Baylor Alumni Association (BAA) has long commended in the life of Baylor for two reasons. First, because freedom of conscience was one of the founding principles upon which Baylor was built as a Baptist institution. Second, because an ongoing commitment to freedom of conscience is the key to Baylor’s success.

As is well known, Baylor’s stated mission is to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community.

Upon these two pillars—academic excellence and Christian commitment—rests the weight of Baylor’s daily life. But beneath them, forming the platform upon which they stand and serving as the university’s ultimate foundation, is freedom of conscience.

What exactly does freedom of conscience mean, in terms of how Baylor lives out its mission? Several things immediately come to mind.

Freedom of conscience means true academic freedom, rather than the more ideologically narrow culture that exists in some schools. It also means religious liberty—the right of every person to freedom of thought and worship according to the dictates of his or her own conscience. “Baylor always ought to be the leader among Baptists as a bastion of academic and religious freedom, and we need to do everything we can to perpetuate that for future generations,” Dr. Herbert H. Reynolds, Baylor’s president from 1981 to 1995, told the Line in 2001. “We should never try to tie our mission down in such a way that you or I can impose a measuring stick on one another and say, ‘You may be a tremendously dedicated Christian, but you’re not measuring up to our instrument of doctrinal accountability.’ That’s not good for Baptists, and that’s not good for Baylor.”

Freedom of conscience also means the liberty to speak out concerning controversial issues. In the U.S. Constitution, this takes the form of freedom of speech. In a university, it takes the form of the “marketplace of ideas,” operating on the premise that the best among a wealth of freely expressed viewpoints will eventually win out by public consensus without undue regulation. At a university, truth will be recognized. Dissent and debate are to be welcomed.

The BAA believes that Baylor is at its strongest—as an institution of higher education and in its witness as a Christian community—when it serves as a bastion of traditional academic and religious freedom. And the BAA resolutely points to freedom of conscience as being the polestar of Baylor’s future success. Follow it, and Baylor will continue to flourish.

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